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Teenagers and puberty

Puberty… shouting, door slamming, outrage, love, tears, anger, hugs, sleep, forgetfulness, frustration… so much confusion!

Let’s think about it, as a parent of a new pre-teen/adolescent, the last time you had to deal with puberty was when you went through the changes yourself. Chances are you cannot remember much of it or it might have been a very stressful time for you? Now your own child is going through the changes and it’s hard, because you cannot understand how such a small person can have so many different emotions in such a short time? It is almost like the weather in the UK, sunny, rainy, windy cloudy all in one day.

This is all normal and they need to know it also!

They go through 5 stages, called the Tanner Stages, of body changes and the biggest of it all are the hormonal changes. If it wasn’t for the hormones, then they would be kids forever. Their first kiss is not from a boy, it is the pituitary gland that getting “kissed” by a gene called KiSS, stimulating the start of gonado-releasing hormones. This is stage 1. It is not visible as it happens in the brain. Girls get KiSS-ed just after her 8th birthday and boys will have it around 9 or 10 years. Stage 2 puts the hormones in first gear to start with body changes. Girls generally will start with small bits of body hair and breast budding. Their hands and feet are also undergoing a rapid growth spurt, you might notice your shoe cabinet frequently gets raided. During stage 3 all the physical changes become more obvious, breast grows, hair growing under arms and groin, massive rapid growth spurt (here the yesterday long pants turns into a capri by tomorrow) and fatty deposits around hips and thighs.

Stage 4 is where she will start her first period. For some girls it might be a traumatic event. It is vital that she knows what to expect and the reason why it happens so that her body knows it is a celebration and not a curse. It is easier for us to accept things when we have a clear understanding about what is going on, this account for anything. The adolescent can feel the changes and see it, but it is more important that we as parents can help them understand and give them the insight of what is truly going on inside their body. It’s important they know the facts and with that it gives them the options to better support themselves through the changes.

I can remember when I was in school, I only knew pads. I HATED IT! Every time my period came, I was upset, because I didn’t “enjoy” wearing pads. I despised PE lessons. I felt embarrassed having to excuse myself from swimming lessons. I also didn’t ask mom what I can do differently, because I thought pads was my only option. Besides, I was shy! We didn’t have internet. I grew up in a small town and mom did the shopping.

When I moved to the city to study, my cousin told me about tampons…. My world changed! About 6/7 years ago my world change again, this time massively when I discovered period cups and later, period underwear. We are now so spoilt for choice and supported in choice, both for your body and for the environment.

I remembered how I felt, it made me not enjoy my period (if enjoy is ever the right word), or perhaps accept my period. I wasn’t made fully aware why I needed to get them, to me it was punishment. If I was better guided in my choices and to explore them better, if I had an understanding what my body went through every month, the chances are that I would have felt more confident and in control.

I would have handled my feelings better. My self talk would have been different. This accounts for all the girls today who might be in the same boat. There is absolutely no reason why they should live in the unknown with the internet oozing with information and self-help, but; to hear comforting words and guidance from a trusted adult carries more value and makes such a change.

There are a lot of emotions going through puberty. With the hormones practicing and working hard to find it’s place, you can expect your teen to go through erratic behaviour. Chances are she herself are not in control of her moods and knows that it is wrong, but she cannot help feeling how she feels. She will have remorse in some form, let her know in a loving way that it is not OK, there must be respect. Let her know that you understand how she feel, teach her ways to help ease her mood swings, reassure her that help is always close and that you will help her to understand the feelings and how to deal with it. It is like holding her hand, teaching her to walk when she was a baby, now you help hold her emotional hand to teach her to be confident and in control of her own feelings. It won’t last forever, that is the good news. At around 15/16 years, stage 5 sets in where it marks the end of physical maturation. In girls, although their breast will only settle completely at 18years, by 15 they are just about at their adult size. Their period become more regular and their body carries all the signs of an adult body with hair and body fat placement. Her body kind of takes on momentum which will sustain her sexuality into her adult self.

Puberty and the adolescent phase with its mood, period, body changes and all is a wonderful phase to celebrate the most significant time in their life. It is like the entree to adulthood. It is such a critical phase to build confidence, strength and self-love by helping them to fully understand their body and the changes.

Most of all - The best practice for parents during puberty is patience